Monday, September 28, 2009

Reefer Madness?

Kevin Coolidge

"If this book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But, for God's sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose."
Thomas Jefferson


If you are like most people reading this column, there's a good chance you have been under the influence of either alcohol or marijuana at some time in your life. Don't worry; I'm not going to tell anyone. Inhaling is the point, isn’t it? In fact, many experts believe it is an inherent, biological drive to alter one’s consciousness through the use of intoxicants. Drug use is universal. Every culture in history has used at least one psychoactive drug. Yes, drug-taking is so common that it appears to be a basic human activity.

According to a 2008 World Health Organization study, more than 90 percent of Americans have consumed alcohol during their lives, and almost 45 percent have used marijuana. Although both drugs are woven into the fabric of popular culture, booze and pot are portrayed in different ways. Alcohol is openly celebrated, often glamorized, aggressively marketed, and legal. Marijuana is commonly portrayed as highly addictive, causing permanent mental illness, being a dangerous “gateway” drug, and is illegal.

One book that encourages reassessing the way you think about these two drugs is Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?, written by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert. When I picked up this book, I was surprised to read a foreword written by a former chief of police. After all, regardless of how you view current marijuana laws, it is still illegal. Norm Stamper, former Chief of the Seattle Police Department, has decades of law enforcement experience, and he agrees that it’s very rare to have a night go by without an alcohol-related incident, usually several.

Stamper’s answer isn’t unique. Ask any police officer the last time he had to fight someone under the influence of marijuana alone – usually he will pause to think, and respond, “never.” Ask the same question regarding alcohol, and he will look at his watch to see how many hours ago he wrestled with “beer muscles”. Alcohol can fuel violent behavior where marijuana does not. Alcohol is a major contributing factor in crimes like homicide (not to mention vehicular manslaughter), sexual assault, and domestic violence.

The fact that marijuana does little social harm is the reason that most law reformers give as the primary reason to legalize marijuana; however, as the authors of this book demonstrate, by prohibiting marijuana, we are driving people toward a drug that far too many people abuse already, alcohol. But can marijuana be abused?

Of course, but if everything you learned about “Mary Jane” was in a high school health class or a government-sponsored pamphlet, then this book is required reading. There is ample scientific evidence contradicting many of the government’s most popular marijuana myths – such as the new "super potent" pot, and the use of cannabis leading to harder drugs.

If marijuana poses so little legitimate harm, then why does federal government spend tens of millions on campaigns designed to maintain the criminal prohibition of cannabis? Is it a moral crusade? Part of a larger cultural battle? Or does protection of corporate profits come into play? Marijuana has only been illegal since 1937. It's not a recently discovered plant. Its known use dates back to 7,000 B.C., and can be used for textiles, rope, paper and much more. In fact, you could have been jailed for not growing hemp between 1763 and 1767 in the United States, and you could even pay your taxes with hemp. I wouldn't advise trying that today.

Why marijuana is illegal is beyond the scope of Marijuana is Safer, but I delved deeper into the events that led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Hemp fiber threatened DuPont’s monopoly on the necessary chemicals for paper from trees, and patented Nylon, a synthetic fiber, the same year hemp was made illegal. Andrew Mellon, the primary financial backer of DuPont, was also the Secretary of the Treasury. He appointed Harry Anslinger, his nephew-in-law, to director of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Agency of today.

Anslinger was an ambitious man. He realized that cocaine and opiates wouldn’t be enough to build the agency. He was determined to make marijuana illegal at the federal level. He drew upon themes of violence and racism to draw national attention. Marijuana at the time was mostly used by Mexicans, and black Jazz musicians. He received additional help from William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst was the owner of a huge chain of newspapers, and had several reasons of his own to help. He was heavily invested in the timber industry to support his newspaper empire, and didn’t want to see the development of hemp paper. One acre of hemp can produce the equivalent of three acres of timber. Hearst used yellow journalism, and his known hatred of Mexicans, to spread lies about “loco weed”. Anslinger then brought his plan to Congress, even with the opposition of the American Medical Association. Do your history homework and draw your own conclusions.

Does punishing adults who make the decision to consume a less harmful substance than alcohol make legal sense? By legalizing marijuana, the authors conclude that we would not be adding another vice, but rather offering adults a safer alternative for relaxation and recreation. I personally believe it's about freedom of choice. You ask, "Why marijuana should be legalized?". I ask, "Why should marijuana be illegal?"

Beer? Bud? Or Both? You know you want to email me at frommyshelf@epix.net Miss a past column? Get your fix at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Looking for something less controversial? Check out Hobo’s book “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a stray cat who found a home. A portion of the proceeds goes to Second Chance Animal Sanctuary here in Tioga County.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Our Town, Laramie, and Wellsboro.... the history of small towns...

Kasey Cox

This past week marked eight years since the terrorist attacks our nation woke up to on September 11, 2001. Once again, I hear the words of a Tony Hoagland poem in my mind. This amazing poem, "The Change", is in Hoagland’s latest collection entitled, What Narcissism Means to Me. In it, Hoagland, as an aging white man, deals with the discomfort “his world” feels at watching a powerful, loud, darkly black-skinned young woman trounce her small, white-skinned opponent at the U.S. Open, which he openly confesses to making an analogy of a new era bumping up against the old. When our old ideas, our old stereotypes, our old comfortable categories, melt and crack before our eyes, it is difficult for us, no matter how “accepting” we believe we are. My favorite lines, the ones that give me shivers every time I read them: "There are moments when history/passes you so close/you can smell its breath,/You can reach your hand out/and touch it on its flank...."

Who among us, especially those who lived through Sept. 11th, doesn’t know what that moment feels like? I feel the same breath of history running through the pages of the play The Laramie Project. This play was a collaborative work between Moises Kaufman, the Tectonic Theater Project, and hundreds of people in Laramie, Wyoming, who agreed to be interviewed in the wake of the brutal beating and subsequent death of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, in October 1998.

Indeed, in his introduction to the play, Kaufman explains:

"There are moments in history when a particular event brings the various ideologies and beliefs prevailing in a culture into sharp focus. At these junctures, the event becomes a lightning rod of sorts, attracting and distilling the essence of these philosophies and convictions. By paying careful attention in moments like this to people’s words, one is able to hear the way these prevailing ideas affect not only individual lives but the culture at large.... The brutal murder of Matthew Shepard was ... [an] event of this kind. In its immediate aftermath, the nation launched into a dialogue that brought to the surface how we think and talk about homosexuality, sexual politics, education, class, violence, privileges and rights, and the difference between tolerance and acceptance.....”

The work of the Tectonic Theater Project, in conducting over 200 interviews in Laramie, was just as much anthropology as it was theater. I think of Temple Grandin, amazing woman, internationally-known writer, designer of cattle-handling machinery used all around the world, who is an extremely high-functioning person with Aspergers'. Her work has helped many understand better the way people with autism spectrum see the world. Grandin explains her perspective, living among people with “normal” brains, as feeling like an anthropologist from Mars. She feels she is an alien, a foreigner, and that she is constantly studying human beings to see how they act and why, so she might better blend in.

In many ways, as I work through The Laramie Project with my fellow amateur actors and anthropologists, I believe this play allows us to step outside our own era, our own culture, in this same way, for a little while, to observe ourselves. What do we believe? Why? How do we act toward one another? How do we decide on those actions? And then, once we have observed ourselves, as an anthropologist from Mars, then maybe we can step inside to examine ourselves, to see that we relate to the people in this story, as we see ourselves there. As one young woman from Laramie said at the time of the vigils held for Matthew Shepard, “And we have to mourn that... we live in a town, a state, a country where ... this happens.... people [are] trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime, I feel. Everyone needs to own this. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this.”

Plays such as The Laramie Project or Our Town or The Crucible can be, and often are, read in English class. Ultimately, though, theater is meant to be experienced, watched, and participated in. I invite everyone to read this work, and then come experience it with us as Hamilton-Gibson gives all of us a chance to “reach out our hands and touch history on its flanks”, and meditate on our lives in this small town, in this era.


Hobo knows every day life is always full of drama. If this article seemed like shameless promotion of an event in town, that’s because it is. Hobo has no problem with shameless self-promotion, obviously. If you’ve got something good, then tell people about it! He does it every week in his blog, at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. If you’ve got things to promote, email Hobo at frommyshelf@epix.net to ask for his help.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lawn Boy

Kevin Coolidge

I’ve always been a natural entrepreneur. I remember my very first enterprise--such a classic. A variation of the sidewalk lemonade stand, the sweet catch was…the stock wasn’t mine. It was the weekend of our annual family reunion. Remember those? It’s when you see relatives that you won’t even see at Christmas. You eat and drink to excess, and then promise that you will get together before the next wedding or funeral, knowing that you won’t. I started off selling iced tea and lemonade for 25 cents a cup. “Hey, it was all profit, no overhead.” Sales were strong, but if you aren’t expanding, you’re history.

I decided to add beer to my inventory. It’s not a family reunion without beer. Business boomed. Until neighbor across the street called the cops, “Hey, how was I to know what a liquor license was?” I did add to my vocabulary, with juvenile delinquent and culpable deniability. I also learned one of the basic principles of economics, supply and demand.

I was young and broke and set out to do something about it, much like the main character in Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen. It’s the start of summer vacation, and our protagonist is wondering where he’s going to get enough money for an inner tube for his old ten speed bike. His life changes when his grandmother gives him an old rider mower for his twelfth birthday.

Almost as soon as soon as he figures out how to run it, he’s in business. By the second day he has eight mowing jobs, and is introduced to The Law of Increasing Product Demand versus Flat Production Capacity, better known as “fast approaching your limit”. Three lawns a day, once a week, twenty-one lawns if he worked seven days, dawn to dark with no days off. At forty dollars a yard, great money, but it would mean no summer vacation.

Then he meets Arnold, a work at home stock broker who offers to barter. He will open a stock-market account in lieu of payment for cutting grass. Arnold not only invests the money, but offers business advice. Soon Lawn Boy has a partner, fifteen employees, a lot of money invested in the stock market, and is sponsoring a boxer named Joseph Powdermilk Jr. who comes in handy when Force of Arms and its Application to Business comes into play.

Learning the workings of the free-market economy has never been more fun. This book weaves the concepts of stock, the stock market, commissions, partnerships, employees, competition and more right into the fabric of the story. If you are looking for something entertaining to begin teaching third and fourth graders about finances and business, try this engaging book. Now, couldn’t you go for an ice cold lemonade???

Lemonade? Or Lawn Care? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net. Miss a past column? Put the lever on the rabbit and go to http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com to catch up on past columns, book news and more. Want to read a children’s book about a cat that took the initiative? Read “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a cat who wanted more out of life.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Great Book for the Cat Lover and a Great Outdoor Book

Do you love cats? Did you love Dewey, A Home For Dixie, Chester, Splat the Cat, Kittens First Moon? Looking for a great childrens book or book for the cat lover? Hobo Finds A Home is the book for you. Hobo was a barncat who didn't want to sleep in scratchy hay, and get stepped on by clumsy cows.Check out "Hobo Finds A Home" now available at http://www.edgecliffpress.com/eckpub.html, www.amazon.com ,
and www.barnesandnoble.com and a bookstore near you.

A portion of the royalties benefits Second Chance Animal Sanctuary in Tioga PA! Check out this great grass roots organization at www.secondchanceas.org


Hobo Finds A Home is available for wholesale at www.edgecliffpress.com also available at Ingram, and Baker & Taylor.

For an autographed copy, visit www.wellsborobookstore.com and click on publications. You will receive an autographed version by Hobo the cat with his very own paw print.

Looking for a great book for the outdoor lover? If your reader loves John Gierach, or Patrick McManus. Consider Of A Predatory Heart by Joe Parry with intoduction by Bob Bell, former editor of Pennsylvania Game News. Short stories set in the great outdoors, that will make you laugh, cry, and remember your favorite hunting dog. Available for wholesale at Ingram.Check out his blog at http://ofapredatoryheart.blogspot.com for a FREE excerpt.

This great book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your favorite bookstore. For an autographed copy visit www.wellsborobookstore.com and click on publications. Help support a Vietnam Vet and check out this book.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Now & Then with Nouwen (yes, it's a cheesy pun, but, oh well!)

Kasey Cox

I’ve noticed that almost all of my book review columns for the Gazette start with the word “I”. If I manage not to begin the first sentence with an announcement that this is definitely all from my perspective, then, invariably, I won’t get through the first paragraph without a liberal smattering of me, myself, and I all over the place. When I tried to answer an advertisement to submit my freelance writing to several up-and-coming blogs on the web, I was not only a little shocked that they would ask me to send in two writing samples that were not written in first-person, but, furthermore, that I couldn’t even find one solid example from my writing over the last two years.

Perhaps this personal, subjective style of writing points to narcissism or selfishness in my character; I have been known to enjoy talking about myself and have occasionally been accused of over-sharing. Nevertheless, it is true that writing is an inherently personal process. One of my favorite writers – indeed, arguably one of the most influential religious and spiritual writers of the past century – explained his mission in writing thus: “But aren’t my own experiences so personal that they might just as well remain hidden? Or could it be that what is most personal for me, what rings true in the depths of my own being, also has meaning for others? Ultimately, I believe that what is most personal is most universal.”

This particular quote is from the original, 1971 preface to Henri Nouwen’s book, With Open Hands, though the thought reverberates throughout his work and his life. Of course, Nouwen was not saying that we should all have or will have the same opinions, or allowing his fan Kasey Cox to misuse his quote to justify how her take on a certain book is reflective of everyone’s experience with that author at this time. Whenever I doubt, however, whether or not I should share my deeper feelings in reaction to a story I read, or tell someone how a particular book touched my life, I think of Henri Nouwen. Over and over again, both during his life, and in the legacy of fellow believers he left behind, people have cited what made Nouwen special. Biographer and theologian Ronald Rolheiser, who called Nouwen this generation’s Kierkegaard, summed up Nouwen’s gift: "By sharing his own struggles, he mentored us all, helping us to pray while not knowing how to pray, to rest while feeling restless, to be at peace while tempted, to feel safe while still anxious, to be surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, and to love while still in doubt.”

Never heard of Henri Nouwen? Then you are about to delve into a wealth of wisdom, kindness and inspirational reading, for Nouwen wrote over forty books during his life, as well as writing countless articles, facilitating hundreds of retreats, and teaching thousands of lectures. Among his most frequently-read books are The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom; Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith; The Return of the Prodigal Son; and The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Strangely enough, my favorite work of Nouwen’s, the book I have read several times already though I haven’t read many of his other works, doesn’t even crack the “top ten” Nouwen list of popularity. The book which has always been on my shortlisted list of favorite books – not just from Nouwen, but favorites from every author and genre – is the slim but powerful volume, With Open Hands.

I wish I could have met Nouwen, although, through his writing, I almost feel as though I knew him personally. Indeed, it felt like a personal loss when I learned that Nouwen died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 64, in September of 1996. He was born in 1932 in the Netherlands, and felt called to the priesthood from a young age. He was ordained in 1957, studied psychology at the Catholic University at Nijmegen, then moved to the U.S. in 1964. Consequently, he taught at the University of Notre Dame, and the divinity schools of Yale and Harvard. But though Henri was a priest and a professor, he was also a restless spirit, so he spent much of the next two decades wandering, living with the Trappist monks in the Abbey of the Genessee, hosting spiritual retreats in a variety of settings and institutions, writing, living amongst the poor in South America, and eventually, settling at “L’Arche Daybreak” outside Toronto, Canada.

In keeping with Nouwen’s beliefs about relationships, the intimate and ultimate worth of every person, and the importance of compassion, “Arche” communities focus on the needs and gifts of people with disabilities as their core. Everyone who lives in at “L’Arche” helps someone with disabilities function with their daily routine. The atmosphere at Daybreak brought Nouwen out of a severe depression, allowing him to once again focus clearly on his writing, as well as his ministry to his immediate community and to the larger world. It was these “L’Arche” communities where he finally felt most at home, most centered, and where he believed his mission as giver and receiver felt ultimately fulfilled.